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Water Fish

Updated: Jan 17

At the time of this writing, Chef Ted entertains while teaching a cooking class called “Name that Fish Stew!” It’s a lesson for defining various types of simmering fish dishes from different cultures, namely bouillabaisse, cioppino, and New England fish stew.


In addition to assorted shellfish, Chef Ted claims "water fish" is the universal ingredient.


Before we were married in 1971, this calls us to attention while we're working with Chefs Sing and Ming at a resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.

From the resort’s hot kitchen Sing and Ming feed six hundred mouths all at once, three times a day for the duration of a long, hot summer.

Wearing a slight smile and a white bib-apron, Sing‘s demeanor appears rational and serene, as each day he proves relatively calm. Ming, on the other hand, camouflages his broad shoulders and stoutness under a large, white chef-coat, and he proffers a stern countenance.

The atmosphere in this pressure-cooker scullery not only simmers, it sometimes intensifies to a boil. Notably Sing, during one routine summer luncheon, flitters off-kilter in quick circles like a stressed animal. On this day, Sing is scrambling eggs while Ming assembles manicotti.


Scrambled egg on toast with vegetable sides
Sing's scrambled eggs

Here, in this old, non-air-conditioned, hotel cookhouse, chefs serve from stations where overhead a blackboard hangs scribbled with the name of their dish.


In this kitchen a.k.a. the back of the house, waiters and waitresses whose patrons order manicotti, line up in the MANICOTTI line--which unbeknownst to Sing is over his head.

At the "front-of-the-house” maître d’, Sol Hotchkiss, and hostess, Linda, greet and direct the onslaught of guests. The "busboys" pour water and bring bread, along with matzah, matzo, or matsoh (someone always complains about the menu spelling) as the wait staff hands out menus and hauls in orders.


For a while, as each server approaches and places an order of however-many manicotti plates, Sing—who's busy scrambling eggs, points and in his pronounced Chinese accent, responds, “Manicotti oveh deh. Next.”

Several more times the waitstaff repeatedly approach Sing, and Sing repeatedly responds,

Manicotti oveh deh! Next!”

Through all of this, Ming, who has been deluged with SCRAMBLED EGG requests which Sing is serving, has a much higher level of tolerance. After each egg appeal he merely cocks his head with a motion to Sing.

The usually calm Sing is notably frustrated and ramps up his voice as he picks up the giant pan of scrambled eggs. With it he gestures and shouts, “Manicotti oveh deh!”


Finally, after the next exasperating request for manicotti, Sing grasps and flings the colossal skillet full of scrambled eggs. It sails through the steamy air and clubs the last—seemingly offensive—departing waiter behind the knees, who then, from his writhing position on the floor, meekly points to the chalkboard above Sing that mistakenly—or deliberately—broadcasts MANICOTTI.

Not too long afterwards, everyone calms down and later that day for dinner, Ming under the correct overhead sign, makes and serves FISH OF THE DAY.


During this dinner hour, Ming has several servers who, when they pick up their fish of the day, repeatedly ask, “What kind of fish is this?”


“What is this fish?”


"Is this cod?"


Ming in particular, does not like servers who are unprepared and have not read the night's complete menu, and though his antics are less physical than Sing’s, they are devilish. He toys with the servers, all in good humor and without anger, and with ruses he often makes the kitchen staff howl.


So Ming calmly and firmly in his own distinct accent, snickers with each cloned response to the fish question, “Iss wohtah fish. Next!“



©TLCmoon, LLC


MUSIC TO COOK BY


RECIPE

Halibut with Sweet Corn and Vanilla

Serves 6 as appetizer

½ vanilla bean

½ c. butter, unsalted, semi soft

2 c. seafood stock

splash dry white wine, optional

2 c. corn kernels, fresh if possible

1 tbs. thyme

6 @3 oz. halibut fillets, 1 inch thick

salt

white pepper

2-3 tbs. vegetable oil

2 tbs. chives, fresh, chopped


Split and scrape the inside of the vanilla bean* into the butter. Reserve for later.


Reduce the seafood stock and optional white wine by half.


Add corn and thyme. Set aside.


Dust halibut with salt and white pepper. In a sauté pan over medium, heat oil until hot.

Add halibut and cook until golden, about two minutes.


Turn and add ¼ of the butter. When butter melts, spoon it several times over the fish while the other side browns.


Place in a 350 degree oven for 3-5 minutes or until the center is warm but not hot. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness of fish. Do not overcook.


While the fish is baking add remaining butter to the corn and stock reduction. Simmer until the consistency of your desired sauce.


Spoon the corn on plates, place fish in the center, and sprinkle with chives.

Note: The exterior of the vanilla bean can be placed in a container of powdered sugar for later use in desserts.

©TLCmoon, LLC




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